Sequoia National Park – Where Sequoias Grow

Sequoia National Park is a place a little like from a fairy tale.  It looks like an archetype of the virgin forest moved over here from a remote uninhabited planet.  We are for sure on Earth, what is shortly confirmed by crowds of tourists, who just like us want to see the biggest trees in the world.  Apart from a giant sequoias Sequoia National Park hosts remarkable granite monoliths, waterfalls and, what is the most important, plenty of wildlife including bears.  I think that the first white settlers, who reached this area, had to feel ever a greater fascination and amazement than us today – the people who have seen these wonders earlier on pictures.

Native giant sequoias grow exclusively in California within the belt on elevation between 1500 and 2500 m over the sea level on the western slopes of Sierra Nevada mountains.  Sequoia National Park is the second oldest national park in the USA, founded in 1890 after Yellowstone, in order to preserve and protect these unique trees. Today it is administered as a one unit together with adjacent Kings Canyon National Park.


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First encounter of the white settlers with sequoias

One of the fist white men, who reached the Giant Forest was gold prospector named Hale Tharp. As you might be aware, the best business to do, is the one done with your brother in law, so Tharp together with his brother in law built the cabin in a hollow sequoia trunk, gave up gold search and started cattle grazing. The cabin survived and can be visited.

After a while new settlers arrived. And what did they do, when they saw majestic wonderful sequoias? They’ve got saws. The mass slaughter of great trees has begun. This process was powered by the idea of establishment of a commune selling sequoia lumber for a living. The lumber was of the poor quality. It was soft and easy to break. It was good for matches and fences only. Unfortunately genius commune leaders reached this conclusion a long time after they cut thousands of trees. This devastation was stopped after establishment of the national park. Upon arrival of the National Park Service, the commune was expelled from the forest as well as all the others who tried to settle on its territory.


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A few words about sequoias

Sequoias are true giants. They can grow as high as 95m and their weight can reach 200t.  Their diameter can measure even 9m. The biggest tree in the world taking into account it surface is General Sherman sequoia that grows in the Giant Forrest. The second largest tree in the world, General Grant grows nearby.  Five out of ten biggest tress in the world can be found in the Giant Forrest.  Why sequoias are so big? Because they grow very fast, young trees even up to 2m per year and they never stop to grow. The end of the growth is always caused by a death of the tree.

Sequoias are long-lived trees, the oldest known sequoia has almost, and may be over, 3250 years.  Only bristlecone pines and Patagonian cypress live longer than sequoias. Sequoias are exceptionally resistant to vermin, mushrooms and wildfires.  The most lethal for them is wind. It is relatively easy to uproot them, because their root system is quite shallow.  Wind frequently breaks upper branches of trees. Wounded tree slowly dies. Trees require also a very swollen and highly mineralized soil, stamping out of the soil around trees also causes their death.  This is why some of the sequoias are secured by fences.

Sequoia’s bark is unusually thick, at the base of the tree it can even reach 60 cm, but trees with 90 cm bark are also recorded.  It is usually reach in tannin, which antiseptic effects kills bacteria and mushrooms. Sequoia’s bark is fire resistant. Fire is not lethal to the trees, it is even life-giving helping sequoias to reproduce.

How sequoias reproduce? The first blossom and arrival of cones occurs between the 5th  and 15th year of the life of the tree. Cones ripen between 18-20 months and stay on the tree until they dry and open under exposure to heat. Sometime closed cone stays on the tree even for 20 years. The cone is opened and seeds are released by a hot weather but the most frequently by the fire. Summarizing, sequoias rather do not reproduce in the absence of fire. The fire is a prime enemy of woods intensively fought with. Fire fight leads to extensive growth of lichen what limits growth of new sequoias.

Now it is well known, that fire is simply necessary for sequoias growth. It opens sequoia’s cones and burns down their competition in the form of other vegetation. Sequoias hate shade and love to grow in the open sun. Reminders of the burned down vegetation additionally fertilizes soil creating an ideal conditions for sequoia to grow.


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Sequoia National Park – the best time to visit

Sequoia National Park lies on the quite high elevation over 2,000m over the sea level.  This why winter comes early and holds for a long time.  It is not unusual to see plenty of snow around in the spring and some roads can still be closed. The park starts with full speed in the middle of May, all hotels, restaurants and shops are open and park shuttle bus starts to operate.

Beginning middle of September park limits its services and snow can fall any time. The park is open in winter, but snow chains are required, when it is covered by snow.

Temperatures in the summer are very pleasant, because trees offer of lot of shadow.  We visited the park four times each time in the summer. Only once it was really hot, we enjoyed other visits with nice and cool temperatures. This is why I think that summer is the time to visit Sequoia National Park.


How to get to Sequoia National Park?

The park is accessible from two sides, from the town of Three Rivers on the South (by road 189) or from Fresno in the West (by road 180). The road from both sides is steep and slowly climbs into the heart of the Sequoia Park on the elevation of 2000m.  The route from Three Rivers requires much more attention, as the road narrows, has more curves and consequently is more dangerous. Due to road works the vehicles longer that 6,7m are not allowed between Hospital Rock and Giant Forrest. The road from Fresno is recommended by the Park for vehicles longer than 7,3m. I think that this recommendation is wise as our SuburbanXL barely made it. We also saw firefighters taking care over the collapsed RV.  The RV collapsed to the side taking turn at one of the switchbacks and blocked one of the lanes.  If it collapsed to the other side it would had fallen down the drop off.

Please, be careful on the way down, as it is very easy to overheat breaks. The park recommends using engine breaks on this road.  The drivers not familiar with the technic of driving long curvy road downhill, should stop from time to time on the available pullouts to cool their breaks and relax. More, if you go slowly blocking 5 or more vehicle, you break California law.  Such car is required by the law to stop at the pull out and give way to others.  Avoid stopping at the unpaved pullouts, as vegetation can catch fire from the overheated chassis and turn into a wildfire.

Those who don’t want face curvy, narrow roads can purchase transfer from Visalia or Three Rivers to the Giant Forest. The bus picks up passengers from various places in those towns mainly from local hotels.  Park Shuttle operates from the end of May till the middle of September.

You can book the bus service from Three Rivers or Visalia using the link below.


Almost at the same time (exact dates are announced every year by the park) the complimentary park shuttle service is offered in the central part of the Sequoia Park.  This combined with the bus service creates a fully integrated transfer system that allows to drop driving of your own car, if you are interested on the central part of the park only.


Map of stops


Sequoia National Park – where to stay? 

Wuksachi Lodge is the only hotel in the Sequoia Park. The others John Muir Lodge, Grand Grove Cabins and Cedar Grove Lodge are in the Kings Canyon Park.  All hotels keep fair standard, what in the case of park hotel facilities is not obvious. When we stayed at the Wuksachi Lodge we experienced some inconveniences, it was difficult to park and sometimes we had to leave our car several hundreds of meters from our room. In addition we and to carry your luggage using stairs as the parking level is below the hotel level.  The worst was removal from our car of food and all other things that are in bear’s menu, including the sun protection cream. And this feeling in the middle of the night, when you suddenly realize, that there is OREO pack in the glove compartment…

Here you can book your stay at the park and learn details of all accommodation options:

Much more convenient was our stay in Visalia, the regular hotel with a parking lot, no bear related restriction were of the advantage.  This year (September 2018) Visalia was disappointing. There was no any street lamp working at night, almost every corner you could spot a suspicious man brusquely demanding money.  We were really afraid to leave our car.

Much better experience we and with Fresno, where we stayed several times, so we did stayed there also in September 2018. It is a pleasant city with plenty of fine restaurants and shops.

Sequoia National Park runs several nice very well equipped campsites, located in the beautiful spots and providing privacy. Campsites in Potwisha, Buckeye Flat, Lodgepole, Dorst Creek, Sunset and Sentinel are bookable six months in advance.

The campsites can be booked here:

The other campsites: Sheep Creek, Moraine, Atwell Mill, Cold Springs, Crystal Springs, Canyon View and South Fork work on the first came, fisted served basis. In the summer months from Thursday till Saturday its hard to get a place.  Better chances are during weekdays and in the low season i.e. from the middle of September.


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Beware of bears!

Even in Yellowstone and Glacier I haven’t seen so many bears like in this park. Sequoia National Park is a true kingdom of bears of all kind, small, large ones, mothers with their offspring and playing baby bears.  In this park you have excellent chance to see a bear. Moving around the park you can meet the bears everywhere (we met bears at the parking lot of the Wuksachi Lodge). A bear encounter in these circumstances is not dangerous, as bears are usually busy with their own business, however having lunch in the park is like taking chances.  At every picknick table can be found a warning sign that bears will be steeling your food.  It is recommended to keep food at the arm’s length. In the case of bear attack food must be guarded and can’t be given to a bear. Why should we stand for our hardboiled egg?  Because no one wants bears to get used to this form of finding their food.

There were the most stressful meals of our life.  We were freezing at any twig snap sound.  Just in case we kept our car and trunk door open, to throw quickly our food inside our car and drive away.  We were just a step away from the evacuation drill.

The park has a few fascinating recommendations concerning bears. If you are attacked by a brown bear, you should fall to the ground and pretend dead, if by a black bear it is totally opposite, you should hut him in the nose. In my view in the case of a sudden bear attack it may hard to identify, what kind of bear is attacking you and make the right decision.

Park rangers also suggest to speak to the bear with a calming voice trying to walk back slowly.  I think that loud reading of a boring book would work turning immediately any bear into his winter sleep, however I don’t suspect anyone to travel with boring literature.

If bear isn’t ready to converse with us, we should try to look bigger than we really are, we should raise our hands up and stand on something to be higher than a bear. Avoid sudden moves.  The most important, we don’t runaway, as our escape wakes up in a bear a natural instinct of a hunter, making him chase us. Bears only look fat and slow, they are excellent runners. When we are breathless they are still in the perfect shape. If a bear starts to run after you, stop and pretend that you are invincible. You may try to introduce yourself as Chuck Norris and generally stand on your ground. This is supposed to discourage a bear from a chase and convince him that you are really tough guy.

Our bear encounters were all very friendly, black and brown bears didn’t pay attention to us at all, grizzly mom with two youngsters met in Glacier National Park disappeared like a ghost faster than we managed to take out our camera.


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 Park Narodowy Sekwoi


 Park Narodowy Sekwoi


Visiting Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon

I will describe the visiting plan starting from Three Rivers, i.e. Rd.198, as we always entered the park from this side.  Departure from the park into the direction of  Fresno, limits the risk of overheating your breaks, as this road is less steep.


Tunnel Rock

The first view point to stop is Tunnel Rock located behind the Sequoia Park entrance and Foothill Visitor Center.  Tunnel Rock is a giant boulder supported from below by two others, all together making a very much picturesque tunnel.


 Park Narodowy Sekwoi tunnel rock
Tunnel Rock


Hospital Rock

Our next stop is Hospital Rock, located in the site of former Potwisha tribe settlement. We can find there beautiful intense red pictograms. The rock with pictograms hosts a part cave giving a smart shelter. Hale Tharp called it Hospital Rock because native Americans healed in here a wounded leg of his brother in law and a wounded trapper, who shoot himself with his rifle.


Crystal Cave

A narrow and curvy road takes us high uphill to Giant Forrest. Before we reach this part of the park, just before the Giant Forest we can turn left into Cave rd. leading to Crystal Cave.  This road is not accessible for vehicle longer than 6,7m. Crystal Cave is a marble cave with impressive stalactites and stalagmites.  Its walls are polished with underground water.  The cave can be visited with a guided tour.  The standard tour takes 50 minutes and requires a short but steep walk from the parking lot. The way in is downhill but return is uphill. The walk to meeting point takes 15 min. A drive from Generals Highway lasts half an hour.

The cave is very popular, so if you wish to visit the cave it is recommended to buy tour tickets upon arrival to the park at Foothills Visitor Center or Giant Forrest Museum or even earlier via internet. There are several kinds of tours including the speleologists tour. Even in the middle of the summer inside the cave is chilly with temperatures around 10C. The cave can be visited from the end of May till the end September. If you have never been into the cave of this kind it is worth to visit.  If you have seen this type of the cave, it is better to concentrate on sequoias.

You can book your Crystal Cave tour right here:

Auto Log

Now we enter the Giant Forrest. We move along Cresent Medow Rd towards Moro Rock.  We make the first stop at Auto Log the giant fallen sequoia, that became famous as the log that you can drive on it just like on the highway.  There are plenty of old pictures showing cars driven on this log. Today the log is no longer stable and car drives are not allowed anymore.  Nevertheless, how dare you to drive over sequoias. 🙂


 Park Narodowy Sekwoi auto log
Auto Log
 Park Narodowy Sekwoi auto log
Auto Log



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